Two stories down, three to go. And with three to go, I went crazy on Friday and knocked them all out at once. Probably not the best for comprehension’s sake, especially considering my brain was mush on Friday, but you’ll forgive me, especially since “Movement” was the story I read first, which meant I was at my sharpest! Or some such logic. . .
“Movement” grabbed my attention pretty quickly with it’s vivid description in the opening paragraphs. And then it turned me off when I realized the story was about an autistic girl having to decide between being autistic or “normal,” because my first reaction was, “Been there, done that, loved the book” (the book in question being The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon). But as I read, I realized that this story, while starting with an uber-similar premise, was a different beast entirely, and that’s when I got hooked.
Because the key difference here is that Hannah is a minor, and the people discussing the treatment are her parents. Her father’s all for it, but her mother is deeply suspicious of technology and it dragging her feet. She wants her daughter to be happy, but lacks the understanding that her daughter doesn’t have to be “normal” in order to be happy. As a result, there’s a twist on the tension that made The Speed of Dark so compelling: Hannah is having a choice foisted on her, the choice of most DEFINITELY being normal, or — due to her talents — POSSIBLY being something extraordinary. The possibility comes from the chance that her talents may not develop into something extraordinary. The doctor explains it as such:
Without treatment, some children like Hannah develop into extraordinary individuals. They become famous, change the world, learn to integrate their abilities into the structures of society. But only a very few are that lucky. The others never learn to make friends, hold a job, or live outside of institutions.
What no one really understands is that Hannah is already extraordinary. Her way of interacting with the world, with viewing, is what really made this story for me. She understands things on an interstitial basis, everything braced in the middle, in between possibilities, a kind of Schrödinger’s Cat way of seeing time, the universe, the world. And really, that’s what this story is about: Hannah, caught between the possibility of normal versus autistic, and she’s fighting to make her choice known. Because while her parents and doctor think otherwise, Hannah does understand what’s happening around her. She just processes everything very, very differently.
In this near-future, there’s a scene where Hannah puts on her ballet shoes (a style of dance thoroughly out of style in this time: Hannah states that Mine is an endangered species in the performance hierarchy; a neoclassical variant that no one remembers, no one pays to watch, and only a few small groups of dancers ever mimic. It is solitary, beautiful, and doomed to destruction. I love it because its fate is certain. Time has no more hold on it.), and she dances. The description here is just wonderful.
I begin to warm my muscles, keenly aware of the paths the shadows trace along the walls as sunset fades into darkness. When I have finished the last of my pliés and jetés, stars glimmer through the colored glass of the windows, dizzying me with their progress. I am hurtling through space, part of a solar system flung towards the outer rim of its galaxy. It is difficult to breathe.
Often, when the flow of time becomes too strong, I crawl into the dark space beneath my bed and run my fingers along the rough stones and jagged glass fragments that I have collected there. But today the pointe shoes are connecting me to the ground. I move to the center of the room, rise to full point…
Time stretches and spins like molasses, pulling me in all directions at once. I am like the silence between one movement of music and the next, like a water droplet trapped halfway down a waterfall that stands frozen in time. Forces press against me, churning, swirling, roaring with the sound of reality changing. I hear my heart beating in the empty chamber. I wonder if this is how Daniel Tammet felt when he contemplated infinity.
Finally I find it; the pattern in the chaos. It is not music, precisely, but it is very like it. It unlocks the terror that has tightened my muscles and I am no longer a mote in a hurricane. I am the hurricane itself. My feet stir up dust along the floor. My body moves in concordance with my will. There are no words here. There is only me and the motion, whirling in patterns as complex as they are inconstant.
By this point in the story, I’m rather entranced. To give you another idea of how Hannah processes the world around her, here’s what happens when her parents find her (she’d slipped away to go dancing):
They are sweaty from the night air and speak in tense sentences that all jumble on top of each other. If they would bother to wait I might find words to soothe their frantic babble. But they do not know how to speak on my time scale. Their conversations are paced in seconds, sometimes in minutes. It is like the buzzing of mosquitoes in my ears. I need days, sometimes weeks to sort my thoughts and find the perfect answer.
And another section where Hannah’s interacting with her grandparents, who are observing her older brother connect the Vastness (which feels like some kind of virtual reality):
My grandparents say the Vastness is distorting my brother’s mind, but I think it is really the opposite. His mind is built to seek out the Vastness, just like mine is attuned to the dizzying flow of seconds and centuries.
This story utterly appeals to my intellect. I could’ve quoted SO MUCH MORE in this story, but I didn’t because I want to leave the whole of it for you to read and discover on your own. It’s such a compelling piece, and I could read stories set in Hannah’s POV for pages and pages, and I really don’t think I’d get bored.
It’s not a perfect story, mind you. Sometimes the symbolism is a wee bit too obvious, and there were moments where I had trouble visualizing the actual setting and action of the story, though that may have just been a goof on my part. But for the story’s flaws, the way this story grabs and holds me makes it hard to forget, and the ending is something bittersweet, because the reader knows exactly what Hannah wants. The question is, though, will her parents understand her? In its own, quiet way, it’s kind of a cliffhanger, simply because we don’t know what happens next, but we know what we WANT to have happen next, and we fear what WILL happen next. If that makes sense.
“Movement” is a great story. It’s going to make it hard to decide on a clear winner in the short story category, which means that before voting, I’ll probably re-read it. Right now, it’s between this and “The Paper Menagerie.”